Russia agrees to extend Black Sea grain deal, but only for 60 days
Ukraine counters that original Black Sea Grain Initiative foresees a 120-day extension.
Russia said Monday it had agreed to extend a deal that allows Ukrainian grain exports to pass through the blockaded Black Sea, but only for another 60 days, drawing an immediate challenge from Kyiv.
The deal, initially brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last July, was extended once in November for 120 days and rolls over automatically on March 18 if no side objects. Some 24 million tons of Ukrainian produce have been transported under the Black Sea Grain Initiative so far, amid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s all-out war on Ukraine.
Russia “does not object to the next extension of the ‘Black Sea Initiative’ after the expiry of the second term on March 18, but only for 60 days,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin said in a statement issued by the Russian mission to Geneva after talks with U.N. officials.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksander Kubrakov responded in a tweet, however, that the original agreement under the Black Sea grain deal foresees a 120-day extension — and not the 60 days agreed to by Moscow.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for the extension at a meeting in Kyiv last week, stressing the initiative’s importance for bringing down global food prices and tackling food insecurity.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said it was a “critical moment” in the talks to extend the initiative, which he described as a “critical instrument,” Reuters reported.
Under a second deal struck with Moscow in July 2022, the U.N. agreed to help facilitate Russian food and fertilizer exports for a three-year period. The Kremlin has maintained that this side of the bargain has not been kept, arguing that Western sanctions targeting fertilizer oligarchs and Russia’s main agricultural bank have hampered its own fertilizer and food exports.
Last time the deal was renewed, in November, Russia threatened to pull out unless these sanctions were dropped but eventually agreed to an extension.
In New York, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that the global body "remains totally committed to the Black Sea grain initiative as well as our efforts to facilitate the export of Russian food and fertilizer."
The two agreements are “part of the global response to the most severe cost-of-living crisis in a generation”, the U.N. said in a later statement, adding that these deals “have had a positive impact on global food security, with millions of tons of grain reaching global markets.” The U.N. takes note of Russia’s announcement, said the statement.
Ukrainian Ambassador to Turkey Vasyl Bodnar accused Russia of trying to manipulate the memorandum it signed with the U.N., in an interview with Ukrainian news site Ukrinform. Ukraine’s aim is not only to extend the agreement but to expand it, to include more ports and to allow more goods to flow through them, he said.
This story has been updated.